Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tasmanian Devil Cancer Traced Back to 'Immortal' Devil Girl

About 20 years ago, a female Tasmanian devil living in northeast Tasmania developed a facial tumor. When she eventually died, she left some of her cancer cells behind. Her tumor lived on to kill another day, and has been sweeping through the endangered Tasmanian devil population ever since.

The "immortal devil girl" was identified in a new study in which researchers sequenced the genetic blueprint, or genomes, of the Tasmanian devil's cancerous facial tumors.

"It’s a very bizarre cancer; it's spread by living cancer cells," study researcher Elizabeth Murchison, working with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, told LiveScience. "The contagious cancer has arisen from the cells of a single girl devil that lived quite some time ago. We don't have genetic material from that devil, because it lived and died in the wild and was probably never seen by a person."

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